Modern vision and theatricality in the novels of Dreiser, Wharton, and Fitzgerald
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This thesis explores the critical cultural shift towards "the privileging of vision" and "the world as picture" at work at the turn of the century, which is crucial to understanding of the modern urban culture and the social formation of modern subjectivity. Examining the canonical texts of the major authors of literary realism, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who share their significant concerns over the advent of a distinctively modern form of ocularcentrism or the hegemony of vision, this project investigates the question of how modern vision and new visual experiences in the modern era caused radical changes in the way images are seen and understood and in the way individuals perceive themselves and the world around them, and how the process of visual representation and the way of seeing (or reading) fostered a particular organizing of the social order, of subjectivity, and social relations in the modern era. This thesis also illuminates how modern vision was linked to specific discourses and forms of social power and a particular matrix for organizing the relations between observer and observed, the visible and the invisible. Tracing these authors’ representations of the various forms of visual experience in the modern world – such as urban environment, publicity, mass media, photography and other visual technologies – and their diverse responses to these complicated questions about vision and its arrangements for generating image, knowledge and power, this thesis demonstrates the irrefutable fact that the new lines of visibility, or matrix of sight and spectacle constructed by new urban spaces and the period’s technological developments took on a decisive significance not just in creating the unreal of reality but also fostering a radical re-conception of the process of identity and social interaction in modern America.